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Mapping Legacy Assets to Upgrade Infrastructure

image credit: A New York City street is uncovered to repair underground utilities © Linda Bair | Dreamstime.com
Julian Jackson's picture
writer and researcher BrightGreen PR

Julian Jackson is a writer whose interests encompass business and technology, cryptocurrencies, energy and the environment, as well as photography and film. His portfolio is here:...

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With ongoing investments in improving and upgrading energy networks, how can digital technology assist this process, and what steps can be taken to “future-proof” the process so expensive changes do not have to be made a few years down the line?

Cities are growing at a fast pace, and more people are moving to urban areas. Cities are expanding by around 10% per year in population and surface area. The digital revolution and urbanization are driving changes to the way utility organizations operate, not just at a customer level, but also in technical and field operations.

Introducing modern digital mapping technology to field operations has the potential to deliver significant efficiency savings, and remove some of the difficulties that come from managing a utility network of legacy assets, while needing to expand and invest in new infrastructure to cope with population growth and the energy transition.

Because utility networks have generally grown up piecemeal over decades, what exists now is a maze of pipes and cables underground. With more assets joining or replacing existing infrastructure, utility organizations are facing huge challenges to understand exactly what assets exist and their precise location.

Utility organizations own inventories of networks which are often paper based or stored in various different online databases or, in the worst case scenario, held by several owners. In some cases legacy assets can be so old that they aren't even present on modern maps.

This creates enormous challenges when urgent maintenance is required as field teams often incur delays from not being able to pinpoint the precise location of the asset in need of repair. Working blind also creates a risk to the health and safety of the public, engineers, as well as field teams installing or maintaining equipment.

There are not just dangers, but also legal risks to accidental damage to underground infrastructure. Business owners or city authorities can demand financial restitution or in the worst case, start legal proceedings against a utility in such circumstances.

 

Using Modern Technology to Map Legacy Assets

LIDAR on aircraft, drones or ground vehicles, Ground Penetrating Radar, Satellite Mapping and adding sensors to existing systems can enable utility organizations to respond to problems and repair damaged assets faster, minimizing service downtime and improving customer satisfaction.

Using mobile mapping solutions with ground penetrating radar, 3D mapping can be carried out safely in busy environments. Above ground infrastructure such as street lights and power lines, and underground infrastructure such as pipes and cables, can be captured at the same time with minimal disruption.

By creating full digital records of utility assets, organizations can attain visibility of existing above and below ground assets, bridging the gap between the physical world and the digital world. With the latest scanning technology, information can be collected and sent back to head office to use for future maintenance and repair work, preventing hazardous outages.

Replacing traditional methods with digital ways of working can be fundamental to saving costs, improving safety standards and reducing the likelihood of an incident, as well as reducing operating costs. By using these advanced digital interfaces, and new technologies like Big Data, IoT and 4G/5G, utilities will be able to map and transform legacy systems in a more efficient manner.

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Thank Julian for the Post!
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Robert Brook's picture
Robert Brook on Feb 10, 2022

Hi Julian..thanks for the post! I’m interested in your perspective on the role of the Digital Twin in the Utility industry. I realize that the term DT is used to describe anything for anyone, but I am specifically talking about ones based on rich asset content and engineering/physics based models…..genuine digital replicas of operating equipment that not only look like the field network but act like them as well. In addition, do you feel that there is greater benefit in particular verticals (Electric, Gas, Telco) than in others?

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